EFF and Public Knowledge have submitted comments to the Copyright Office, urging it to clarify the legality of using so-called "orphan works"—works that may or may not still be restricted by copyright, but for which the rightsholder is difficult or impossible to identify and locate. The orphan works problem has been widely recognized, and as we note in the comments, there is a clear consensus that the public needs more access to these sorts of books, photographs, films, and other materials.
As we explain, the best way to facilitate that access is to make sure the public can rely on a robust fair use doctrine. The Copyright Office can help by issuing a report that explains the many reasons why uses of orphan works are likely to be fair ones. That solution is far preferable to some of the other proposals, such as the collective licensing option that has met widespread opposition.
The orphan works problem is a serious one, and all of our access to our shared cultural heritage. The Copyright Office can and should address the issue—and reinforce our fair use rights in the process.